We are now 27 days out from the election and into the final stretch. Below is BIPAC's Senate Rankings for 2014, and today's EIS will focus on the current trajectory of the competitive races, including the Lean Republican, Toss Up and Lean Democrat.
Typically races move on or off the competitive playing field as the election cycle progresses, but this cycle has remained remarkably steady with the races that were thought to be competitive a year out still being the ones that are competitive less than a month out and with very few new races creeping into the competitive category. All of the races outlined below are still considered highly competitive, but some are beginning to drift one way or another and are designated as "lean" towards one party or the other.
AR: Sen. Mark Pryor (D) has been on the list of most vulnerable Democrats for a while now, and not much is changing. Pryor is relatively well liked and his family has been involved in Arkansas politics for years, but Arkansas is a solidly red state now at the federal level. Romney won by 24 points in 2012 and Pyror is the only Democrat left in the federal delegation. Most polls have Rep. Tom Cotton (R) leading the race by an average four points, with Pryor stuck around 40% - bad numbers for an incumbent.
GA: Democrats fielded an impressive candidate in Michelle Nunn (D), who has given Republicans a competitive race in Georgia. However, now that the Republican primary is over and David Perdue (R) has coalesced the Republican base, he is starting to pull away in the polls and currently leads by about three points. While Perdue is leading, both candidates are still under 50%, and if neither get a majority of the vote, this race will go into a runoff on January 6th. Runoffs tend to favor Republicans, especially in a midterm election year, and depending how the other races flesh out on Election Day, this could be the race that decides the control of the Senate.
KY: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) has been an impressive candidate, but Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) has double downed and with Pres. Obama's dismal approval ratings in this coal state, the race is looking less and less competitive as we head into October. Currently, McConnell leads on average by about five points, with his lead widening in the past few weeks. This is still a competitive race, but McConnell has the advantage in the home stretch.
LA: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) continues to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the cycle. With no candidate in this race polling above 50%, it is likely the race will be decided in a runoff on December 6th. If Democrats hold the Senate, Landrieu will become Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Democrats hoped would give her an edge in this race. Cassidy however has run a good campaign and President Obama's approval rating in Louisiana is underwater. Control of the Senate may come down to the LA runoff, and in the runoff polling, Cassidy leads by about six points.
AK: Sen. Mark Begich (D) is faring better than some of his colleagues this cycle, but still faces an extremely competitive race against former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. Polling in Alaska has been all over the place the past few months, with Begich and Sullivan both leading at one point or another. With a very late Republican primary over, Sullivan has begun his general election campaigning in full and is leading the polls by 3-6 points. However, polling in Alaska is notoriously difficult. This could go either way at this point.
CO: This is a tossup race that no one had on their radar a year ago, with Rep. Gory Gardner (R) entering the race in March. Since Gardner entered, polls showed him statistically tied with Sen. Mark Udall (D) and that has continued throughout the summer and into the final stretch. Pres. Obama won Colorado in 2012 by five points, but his approval ratings continue to drop, hurting Udall's chances. Gov. Hickenlooper (D) also faces a competitive election this cycle, which could further hurt Udall's reelection campaign. Expect this race to stay a tossup until the election.
IA: Since Joni Ernst (R) won the GOP nomination in June, this race has been a tossup. Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has had trouble connecting with voters and like most other Democrats running this cycle, has had to distance himself from Pres. Obama's negative approval numbers in the state. He also does not have the advantage of incumbency, like several of the other Democratic candidates this cycle. Ernst has run a strong campaign and Republicans are hopeful that having popular Gov. Branstad (R) on the ticket as well will help her chances. Ernst currently leads Braley by an average of two points - still within the margin of error.
KS: Kansas has become the wild card race this election cycle. Sen. Pat Roberts (R) faces a surprisingly competitive general election after being damaged in the primary. The Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, had little name ID or funds for the general election. He has been removed from the ballot, presenting a clear path for a challenge to Roberts by Independent candidate Greg Orman. Orman has affiliated with each party over the years and describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. He has not indicated which party he would caucus with if elected. On average, Orman is leading Roberts in the polls by five points though Roberts and outside groups have just begun attacking Orman who had been running months of positive ads, so the race is expected to tighten as the attacks sink in with voters. Further complicating Roberts' reelection chances is Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who is also up for re-election this cycle and is losing support from the more moderate wing of the Republican Party in Kansas. This Senate race is currently a tossup and Roberts has become the most vulnerable Republican Senator this cycle.
MI: For the past few months, Rep. Gary Peters (D) has been leading in the polls against former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R). Michigan went for Pres. Obama in 2012 and is the only state Pres. Obama is visiting with a Senate race this fall, showing his national brand is not as damaged in Michigan as it is in other Senate states. Peters is up by an average of seven points and this seat is leaning in his favor.
NH: Carpet bagging attacks against former MA Senator Scott Brown (R) don't appear to be sticking and this race is getting closer and closer as we approach November. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) had a double digit lead in the summer, but now only leads by an average of five points. While NH is currently in the lean D column, it could soon be moved to toss up, if the poll numbers continue to tighten. Shaheen is well liked in the state, but Pres. Obama is underwater in NH and Brown is campaigning heavily on foreign policy, nationalizing the race. New Hampshire, more than any other state, has a tendency to sway with the political winds, going heavily Democratic in strong Democratic years and strongly Republican in good GOP years. If anyone could survive those powerful electoral winds, it would be Shaheen but the state's electoral tendencies run deep with the voters here.
NC: Once of the more vulnerable Senators running for re-election, Kay Hagan (D) has started to pull away from state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) in the polls, and if this trend continues, will be favored for re-election. Tillis, coming from an unpopular legislative session, has been dropping in the polls, and his favorability ratings are less than Hagan, with only 36% of voters having a favorable view, compared to Hagan's 42%. The North Carolina race has turned into a lesser of two evils race, with Hagan currently in the lead.